Obviously Russia is interested in developing economic relationships with Iran rather than confronting and isolating it. This contrsts with the US view even though Russia too is a nuclear power and certainly doesn't want Iran to join the nuclear club. Nevertheless it no doubt is not averse to curbing US power in the mid-east and has recently attacked the US missile defence deployments in eastern Europe.
Russia considers cooperating with Iran to sell natural gas
By Steven Lee Myers
Thursday, February 1, 2007
Even as the United States intensified its efforts to isolate Iran, President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia would consider OPEC- like cooperation with Iran on sales of natural gas. He stopped short of endorsing price fixing, however, saying he was concerned only with ensuring stable supplies for consuming nations.
Putin reiterated Russia's opposition to Iran's acquiring nuclear weapons, but his remarks underscored a widening rift between Russia and the United States over how to deal with Iranian intransigence in the face of the mild sanctions, imposed by the UN Security Council in December.
"We think that the people of Iran should have access to modern technologies, including nuclear ones," Putin said, "but that they should choose a variant that will guarantee Iran access to nuclear energy" while complying with its commitment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty not to build weapons.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted by news agencies last week as saying that Russia and Iran could establish "an organization of gas cooperation like OPEC."
Putin responded by calling it "an interesting idea." He went on to say that Russia opposed creating a price-setting cartel — something that European and other countries fear — but that "to coordinate our activities would be worthwhile with an eye to the solution of the main goal of unconditionally and securely supplying the main consumers of energy resources."
Putin's remarks came during his annual winter news conference, an affair that offers journalists an exhaustive, unconstrained opportunity to press him on the issues of the day. He answered 66 questions over the course of three and a half hours, largely without the rancor or prickly defensiveness that has characterized previous sessions.
In the realm of foreign affairs, he denied that Russia had used its natural resources as a political tool. He expressed new opposition to the expansion of NATO, though mildly. And he criticized U.S. negotiations to construct components of a national missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, even as he confidently said Russia now possessed missiles to thwart such defenses.
He also made his most extensive remarks on the murder of Aleksandr Litvinenko, the former secret service officer who died of radioactive poisoning in London in November and accused Putin himself in a deathbed statement.
He dismissed Litvinenko as a low- level officer in the "convoy troops" who "did not protect any secrets" and who had been fired after being convicted of abusing his office by beating detainees.
"Whatever he could say negatively about his service, he said it a long time ago," he said, suggesting that Litvinenko's repeated accusations of nefarious activities by Russia's secret services were baseless inventions. The question of his murderer, he said, was a matter for investigators, but he dismissed accusations by some of his own aides that Putin's enemies had killed Litvinenko in an attempt to discredit the Kremlin. "I do not believe in conspiracy theories," he said.
On issues at home, he vowed that Russia would hold democratic elections for Parliament in December and for his successor when he steps down next year, but he remained coy about whom, if anyone, he would support. Exuding confidence, he touted the country's economic growth and several times emphasized its progress toward democracy, a picture starkly at odds with accusations of his critics, here and abroad, that he has steadily eroded basic freedoms.
He raised the subject of the shooting death in 2004 of Paul Klebnikov, the Russian-American editor of the local edition of Forbes, agreeing with a statement that he had died fighting "for a democratic Russia." Putin also offered respect, if not praise exactly, for another slain journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who was killed last October. He said that she had "criticized the authorities fairly acutely, which is good."
Putin also sidestepped a question about comments made this week by Mayor Yury Luzhkov of Moscow, who had declared a proposed gay-rights parade to be "a Satanic event." Putin said his attitude toward gay men and lesbians involved his concern about Russia's declining population, suggesting that those who did not bear children were not helping the problem.
"Having said that," he went on, "I respect and will respect the freedoms of all shades of people, of all shades of those freedoms."
On Iran, Russia has held out for a negotiated compromise, a position at odds with U.S. efforts to turn Iran's leaders into political and economic pariahs.
Putin's senior aide, Igor Ivanov, visited Iran last week and discussed the nuclear issue, as well as potential energy cooperation with Iran, which has reserves of natural gas second only to Russia's. Putin said he hoped the visit would "remove any suspicions on the international community about Iran's alleged plans to build nuclear weapons."
Putin also endorsed an idea floated last week by the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, to suspend UN sanctions if Iran agreed to a suspension of uranium enrichment.
Putin recently visited Algeria, another major producer of natural gas, where he oversaw the signing of a cooperation agreement between the two countries' gas giants, Gazprom and Sonatrach. He is to visit Qatar, another important gas producer, next week.
Christopher Weafer, chief strategist of Alfa Bank in Moscow, said in a written note that Putin appeared less interested in creating a new OPEC to dominate energy markets than in using closer cooperation with other producers to "turn Russia from an 'energy threat' to some sort of 'energy mediator'" in the eyes of Europe and other countries.
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